Coronavirus cities cyclists and pedestrians

London, New York, Paris and Milan give streets to cyclists and pedestrians

Cities across Europe and the Americas are drawing up plans to take street space away from cars in favour of cyclists and pedestrians in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Urban spaces are being temporarily remapped to prioritise people walking and cycling while maintaining social distancing of up to two metres in major cities around the world including London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Milan and Bogata.

The initiatives come amid growing support for measures to make cities more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

"Whenever feasible, consider riding bicycles or walking," the World Health Organisation has advised.

"The way to enhance freedom of movement without raising the risk of infection is to create more space," said environmentalist George Monbiot. "Shutting streets to cars, so pedestrians can use them instead, is a good start. So is opening up golf courses, locked squares and other exclusive green places."

Today London has announced Streetscape, an action plan for rapidly building temporary cycle lanes and blocking vehicle traffic on residential streets.

London plans may become permanent

Mayor Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TfL) announced that temporary cycle lanes are being planned for major routes around the city, and on-street parking and car lanes will be commandeered to create wider pavements.

"Many Londoners have rediscovered the joys of walking and cycling during lockdown and, by quickly and cheaply widening pavements, creating temporary cycle lanes and closing roads to through traffic we will enable millions more people to change the way they get around our city," said the mayor.

TfL predicts that the city's public transport system will only be able to run at a fifth of pre-coronavirus capacity, so residents who cannot work from home still will need to walk or cycle. The WHO has warned that people should avoid public transport at peak times, keep one metre away from passengers at all times. Bus and train users should avoid touching handrails and wash their hands as soon as possible after their journey.

"The capacity of our public transport will be dramatically reduced post-coronavirus as a result of the huge challenges we face around social distancing," continued Khan.

TfL said the scheme, while temporary, could become permanent.

New York creates more space for cyclists 

New York mayor Bill de Blasio has announced plans to close 40 miles of road in the city to cars during the month of May. Seven miles have already been given over to people walking, jogging or cycling, according to a report by NPR.

Eventually the city government wants to have 100 miles of road temporarily turned into "open streets" near its parks for cyclists and pedestrians.

On the other side of the country, Oakland in California has enacted a scheme called Oakland Slow Streets, which consists of 15 corridors, totalling 14 miles in length, where people can walk, cycle and run while social distancing.

Soft closure barriers, such as signs and traffic cones, mean that emergency vehicles can still access the roads closed to vehicle traffic.

Paris forges ahead with plans for car-free city centre

The Rue de Rivoli, one of Paris' most famous shopping street, was closed to cars on 30 April and will continue to be pedestrian and cyclist-only for the summer.

To ease pressure on existing public transport routes, cycling lanes that follow the Paris Metro's most popular routes are also being considered. In total, 400 miles of temporary cycle routes are planned for post-lockdown Paris.

Paris' mayor Anne Hidalgo had already been enacting a long-term plan to make the French capital greener before coronavirus struck, planting "urban forests" and phasing out older and more polluting cars from the city centre.

She doubled down on this commitment at a council meeting last week about France's plans to ease its lockdown on 11 May.

"It is out of the question that we allow ourselves to be invaded by cars and by pollution," said Hidalgo, warning "it will make the health crisis worse".

Milan limits cars in the city after coronavirus

Milan, which has started to ease its strict lockdown this week, plans to gradually introduce 22 miles of temporary cycle lanes over the summer.

Called Strade Aperte, or Open Roads, the plan lays out new road layouts with wider pavements. A 20 mile per hour speed limit will also be imposed on some roads and bridges.

Some neighbourhoods will be temporarily pedestrianised so children can play outside and people can use the streets for exercise.

The city is also considering requisitioning some public space for bars and cafes to place tables for customers to make up for those lost space indoors now that people have to social distance.

Berlin pushes through temporary cycle lanes

In Berlin, local officials have used the crisis to push through measures such as temporary cycle lanes much faster than usual as car traffic has dropped by 40 per cent.

"Road traffic regulations state that if there is a change in traffic volume, we can act quickly and create new, perhaps temporary, cycling lanes," Berlin Roads and Parks Department official Felix Weisbrich told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Lines on the roads now mark the new boundaries of cycle lanes that have been widened by a metre to allow people, especially key workers, to move around while maintaining a safe distance.

"As a cyclist, should be well protected during this pandemic," added Weisbrich. "When you pass other bikers you need to be at least one-and-a-half-meters away from them."

Bogota increases cycle lanes for commuting key workers

In South America, Colombian capital Bogota is using cycle lanes to keep people moving. Colombia's president Iván Duque announced yesterday that the country would extend its lockdown until 26 May.

Bogota's local government has introduced 200 miles of temporary cycle lanes for key workers to use for commuting. Cyclists using the routes must wear personal protective equipment such as face masks, gloves and goggles.

"We expanded the number of kilometres so that the citizens who go out to work can use these new corridors," said Bogota director of recreation Blanca Inés Duran.

Temporary hand-washing stations have also been erected at public transport stations.

Main image is by Andrew Martin from Pixabay.